Assange, rape and Wikileaks

I’m a fan of Wikileaks. Up until the US diplomatic cable leak I was a cautious supporter, supporting the collateral murder release but a little concerned about the Iraq war leaks. Admittedly, this was only as a passive consumer of news about Wikileaks.

However, on the release of the US diplomatic cables, I became a fan. Especially as the powers that be weighed in and companies like Amazon and Paypal folded without argument (Amazon, less than a week earlier, defended selling an instructional book for pedophiles on how to groom children).

Here’s the thing. I’m also a fan of not attacking women who are brave enough to report rape.

A rape conviction against Assange will damage Wikileaks. Even though the argument isn’t valid, the political Right will use the rape to smear Wikileaks’ validity. The validity of the information published by Wikileaks is not reduced in any fashion if Assange is convicted or not. However, reality and logic rarely play out in politics, and this is politics writ large across the sky.

On one side, Assange is a victim of character assassination. Not only have giant companies like Amazon and Paypal shown a complete failure of due process (Wikilieaks hasn’t been declared illegal or a terrorist organisation) but the reaction of both the US political right and the Australian government has been deplorable. Have no doubt, our government’s reaction to Wikileaks has the potential to define the future of the internet, privacy and freedom as we know it.

And enter the ‘fog of war’. Reuters at one point reported that the crime Assange was charged with was ‘consensual sex without a condom’ – which under Western law wouldn’t even qualify as rape. However, more recent reports, including a detailed report in today’s Guardian the women specify in detail non-consensual sex with Assange that, to me, sounds like rape in any culture.

Of course, as each piece of information changes, Assange supporters’ conspiracy theories are fed: that Assange is being falsely targeted by powerful hidden players to discredit him.

On the other side, some women see the same old thing. A famous, popular, powerful man charged with rape being supported by all sides while the accusers are vilified, threatened and abused. In an environment where opinion is polarised and the time to contemplate is limited, both sides are pushed to the fringe of common sense. On the blog ‘Life in the Radical Lane’ Idzie, an otherwise seemingly head-screwed-on-blogger writes about those who dismiss the allegations:

And this all springs from one simple goal: MAKING IT EASIER FOR PEOPLE TO RAPE US AND GET AWAY WITH IT.

I strongly doubt this is the goal of the average Assange supporter. What is happening isn’t about rape culture.

It’s about politics.

The left want to keep Assange pure, and if two women have to be sacrificed on the alter of freedom of speech, so be it. Of course, that’s not what the the typical Assange support would state. If you asked them if their goal is to make it easier for men to rape women, they’d be horrified. They’d probably claim that this time, it is different. That the previous dismissal of the charges by Swedish authorities show there is no case. And that if anything, they wholly support women reporting rape and the punishment of those who rape. They’d argue that by falsely claiming rape, these women are damaging the plight of those legitimately claiming rape. They’d point to tweets or rumours of parties held post-rape as proof rape didn’t happen.

They’d be wrong. None of us have proof of anything either way.

Replace Assange with Matty Johns. All the same arguments were made against the NZ barmaid because of one fact: people thought Matty Johns was a good bloke. I heard all the same shit then about the NZ barmaid: other bar staff said she seemed happy the next day. She was only doing it for the money. It was consensual, but she regretted it afterwards, so claimed rape. Cops said there was no proof. Blah, blah, the fucking blah. It made me sick then, it makes me sick now.

So here’s my take: Assange is not Wikileaks. The US cables’ validity is not dependant on Assange’s purity. I support Wikileaks. I support the idea of Wikileaks. I also support the two brave women. As intelligent feminists, they must have known the fury that would be unleashed at anyone claiming rape against a popular left hero. The cries of conspiracy. The questioning of their character, motives and honesty.

The politics of rape are complicated enough. The very nature of ‘he said, she said’ makes for grey morality and injustice on both sides. If you wanted an example of why the right can constantly wedge us, this is it. Instead of discussing the ramifications of the cables, we’re fighting about a man.

Politics are amoral. I should always hope that my politics never overwrite my morality.

Assange must face his accusers. He must have his day in court and be found innocent or guilty, come what may.

__________________________________________

Postscript: The excellent @josephzizys pointed out to me that Assange deserves the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I must say I agree, and it was this thought I was referring to when I mention grey morality and injustice for both sides.

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5 thoughts on “Assange, rape and Wikileaks

  1. You are a way more level headed man than me Mr Idle Dad (actually you are way more man than me full stop)! Very fair arguments and I’m with @josephzizys. The whole trial by media gets my goat up. Is that even a phrase? I’ve refrained from commenting on the Assange files for that reason but sing a loud hoorah on wikileaks.

  2. I had the same general reaction as you: even though the rape charges have, well, some issues, the number of people jumping on the “these women are lying whores” bandwagon made me shiver.

    I’m guessing you’ve seen Naomi Wolf’s take: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/naomi-wolf/jaccuse-sweden-britain-an_b_795899.html. There’s some very interesting points in there which align with what you’ve said: regardless of the veracity of the claims, this has been turned into a political shit storm which will harm Assange and his accusers. And it’s very effectively being used as a distraction from the real issues.

    1. Naomi’s point, if I be so bold, is that the government’s response is obviously political and not genuine. I agree. There’s a strong chance the US will pass some kind of retrospective law and issue a warrant and extradite Assange to the US.
      She is saying what a pity it is that the British and Swedish response isn’t the norm. She isn’t accusing the women of lying, which as you agree, is what the argument has turned into.

  3. I mostly agree, except on one point. This is about rape culture. Not because I think Assange supporters consciously want to perpetuate rape culture but because many of them are doing just that unconsciously – in other words, rape culture is pervasive and ‘normal’, so much so that otherwise decent people merrily spread rape myths (like, as you mentioned here, that there is a correct way for a victim to act after an assault) quite thoughtlessly. That’s what Michael Moore did and doesn’t he regret that now! (Incidentally, Naomi Wolf has said far worse, including that Assange penetrating a sleeping woman wasn’t rape — when obviously if you are asleep you cannot consent. Very disappointing.)

    I support WikiLeaks too and I agree there’s some shady politics going on here. It’s a horrible mess, really.

  4. Hi. Just dropping by…

    I’ve heard friends also comment that all the noise here is because people on the Left are being forced to choose between two of the traditional positions: free speech and women’s rights. However, I think this is an inaccurate construction of the situation.

    Free speech (for leaks) is independent of Wikileaks in the same way that press freedom is independent of The New York Times. If the NYT collapsed tomorrow, there would still be freedom of the press. Wikileaks is merely one organisation that has set up a platform to assist in distribution of leaks on the Internet. Now that Wikileaks has proven so successful, there will be plenty more of them. Leakers will be able to pick and choose! Even if the legal situation around Julian Assange drains all the funds out of Wikileaks, widescale Internet leaking will continue to go on. There’s no putting that genie back in the bottle.

    So, it is entirely possible to support free speech, women’s rights, and be nonplussed about whether Wikileaks goes under due to legal actions against Assange.

    Still, it makes an interesting drama. No doubt this will be made into a movie some day.

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